PALMDALE — Republican Mike Garcia and Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D-Santa Clarita) faced off in an online candidate forum for the 25th Congressional District Friday afternoon where state issues such as Assembly Bill 5 and the global COVID-19 pandemic featured in the hour-long event.
Smith highlighted her experience as an elected official, including nine years on the Newhall School District Board of Education. Smith was elected to the state Assembly in November 2018. Garcia is a former Navy fighter pilot and small business owner.
Garcia and Smith were the top two vote getters in the March 3 primary and special primary elections for the 25th Congressional District seat held by former Democratic Rep. Katie Hill.
Hill flipped the longtime Republican seat in the November 2018 Blue Wave that gave Democrats control of the House. Hill resigned last November following allegations of improper relations with staff members that triggered a House Ethics Committee investigation following the release of nude photos of Hill in online conservative outlets.
Garcia and Smith will face off in a special election May 12. The victor will complete the remainder of Hill’s term, which expires in January 2021. They will also face off again on Nov. 3 for the full two-year term.
The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce hosted the non-partisan, business-related forum moderated by Jeffrey Forrest, vice president of Economic Development at College of the Canyons.
The 25th District encompasses the cities of Palmdale, part of Lancaster, Santa Clarita, Simi Valley and the northern part of San Fernando Valley.
Garcia called for lower taxes and lower regulations and to “turn off” AB 5, the gig-worker bill that reclassifies independent contractors as employees eligible for overtime and sick pay.
“We need to make it easier right now for the gig economy to restart, to have independent contractors be able to work within whatever capacity they can during the stay at home,” Garcia said. “And then to have the small business owners be able to leverage that workforce to the max extent possible without all of the red tape and high costs. So turn off AB 5 right now. There’s no point. Everyone has conceded it’s a bad bill and needs a lot of work.”
Garcia suggested the federal funds for small business should flow through local entities rather than big banks
Smith called for direct grants from the federal government to small business owners. She also defended AB 5.
“When a worker is misclassified, it costs both the state and federal government a tremendous amount of money,” Smith said..
The two also addressed the inequitable distribution of federal stimulus funding from the CARES Act, where publicly traded companies worth millions received a significant amount of money to the detriment of many struggling small businesses that received nothing.
Forest asked the candidates what Congress could do now in addition to the CARES Act to stimulate the economy and get people back to work.
“Unfortunately in the first round, per-capita, California did not get a fair share of those resources,” Smith said in reference to the Paycheck Protection Program loans, many of which went to publicly traded companies worth millions of dollars.
Smith said she wants to make sure the process remains transparent and that the money goes to the main street businesses as intended as well as well as the mid-size businesses that need protection.
“In terms of what we’re going to be able to do to turn this economy back around, it really depends on what the public health infrastructure is to allow us to transition some people going back to work,” Smith said.
Garcia said the biggest thing the federal government can do is to put politics aside.
“The feedback that we’re getting is that some of these smaller companies here did not get the help that they needed,” Garcia said.
Garcia added he wants to make sure that money from the $484 billion in new funds for the CARES Act goes to micro-businesses with two to 10 employees as well as small businesses as intended.
“The priority from the federal government right now needs to make sure that we’re working with the states, the governors to keep us all safe,” Garcia said.
Garcia added they need lower taxes and less red tape in addition to a halt of partisan bickering.
Forrest also asked Garcia and Smith how much of a priority transportation infrastructure would be for them as a member of Congress, and what actions they would take to improve mobility, safety, and the movement of goods in the district.
“The No. 1 thing we can be doing is bringing meaningful jobs into our district, into the Antelope Valley, into the Simi Valley and Santa Clarita Valley, so that we don’t have to do the two-hour commute into West Hollywood and West L.A.,” Garcia said, adding he commutes to El Segundo.
Garcia added they should expand infrastructure including adding decks and lanes to choke points on the 405 and 118 freeways.
“A lot of opportunity to invest in transportation, also a lot of opportunity to invest in water infrastructure,” Garcia said. “Now is the time to be looking at that when we’re not in a drought, frankly. On the backside of the Coronavirus we should be looking at opportunities to get good, cool, safe water to our district so that it’s not a concern every time we are in a drought.”
Smith said the key to regional economic growth is the ability to expand infrastructure to meet local demand.
“A number of the projects were mentioned by Mike,” Smith said. “But expanding the (Interstate) 5 corridor has been incredibly important to us as we look to do smart regional planning and not only locate more housing here but also more job opportunities.”